Belarus tries four officers accused of spying for Poland

Four Belarussian army officers went on trial behind closed doors in the Military collegium of the Supreme Court of Belarus today charged with spying for Poland.

Online paper Khartiya'97 cites the official report of the Supreme Court saying that "four persons are to come to trial. Each of them is charged with collection of information and its reporting to a foreign state under on a task given by foreign intelligence." In order to ensure protection of state secrets, as the Belarus KGB puts it, the proceedings in the case is to take place behind the closed doors. The accused could, in theory, face the death penalty under Belarussian law if convicted of espionage and treason, though there are no known instances of the penalty having been applied. So, the four Belarusian officers face from 7 to 15 years of imprisonment. A fifth Russian officer is to face charges in his home country.

Representatives of the Belarusian KGB in the middle of July on state television about revealing a Polish "espionage network"; they announced that one Russian and four Belarusian officers collected information about air defence system of the Russian-Belarusian union state for Polish intelligence. They were detained in the beginning of the year. Air Force officer Vladimir Ruskin had been allegedly recruited by Polish intelligence during an attempt to transport alcohol through the border, Polish customs service found in his car a quantity of alcohol five times exceeding the norm. According to the Belarus TV, Polish intelligence allegedly offered to overlook the incident in case the military man would become a resident agent in Belarus. The TV presenter said that secret information was copied to a flash-memory, which was to be put into a hiding place in a car fire extinguisher.

Within days of the disclosure of the arrests, President Alexander Lukashenko dismissed Belarus KGB head Stepan Sukhorenko and accused the intelligence services of unprofessional activity.

"The spies' case was made public when clouds started gathering for the KGB leadership. They were to demonstrate power of the secret services," Moscow-based daily Vremya Novostei cites Anatol Lebedko, leader of the United Civil Party of Belarus. Independent political analyst, Alexander Klaskovsky, told the Vremya Novostei that the scandalous case "in some way is continued by inertia": "Today Minsk is not interested in plaguing relations with the West and Russia, that is why it is unlikely to try to evoke an additional response to the espionage scandal".